Can Blocking Memories Help Addicts Recover?

Can Blocking Memories Help Addicts Recover?

By Valerie Tejeda 12/06/12

Scientists discover a way to suppress memories that could be used to treat PTSD and addiction.

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In a breakthrough reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, scientists have discovered a way to suppress memories—without erasing them entirely—that could help people recover from addiction and PTSD. Using lab rats, Western University researchers found that stimulating the "D1" dopamine receptor in a particular area of the brain can prevent the mind from recalling both reward-related memories and aversive ones. "One of the common problems associated with these disorders is the obtrusive recall of memories that are associated with the fearful, emotional experiences in PTSD patients," explains Steven Laviolette, an associate professor in the Departments of Anatomy and Cell Biology, and Psychiatry, who co-led the study. "And people suffering with addiction are often exposed to environmental cues that remind them of the rewarding effects of the drug. This can lead to drug relapse, one of the major problems with persistent addictions to drugs such as opiates." The findings could represent a major breakthrough. "There are presently no effective treatments for patients suffering from obtrusive memories associated with either PTSD or addiction," says study co-leader Nicole Lauzon, a PhD candidate at Western. "If we are able to block the recall of those memories, then potentially we have a target for drugs to treat these disorders." What makes these findings particularly exciting is that researchers were able to prevent individuals from spontaneously recalling memories, but without permanently altering the brain—leaving the original memories intact. Laviolette say, “We weren't inducing any form of brain damage or actually affecting the integrity of the original memories."